Saturday, June 16

Let the River Run (1989)

"Let the River Run" is a single rather than an album, but the song is such a significant entry in Carly Simon's catalogue that I thought it deserved comment here. Equally, the photograph on the picture sleeve of the single is distinctive enough to warrant attention. Here, her trademark smile is just a little more restrained and less spontaneous than in the past. Her pose is not as overtly sensual or playful, and it seems almost conventional in its directness. Her hair, make-up and clothing (those shoulder pads!) have less of a bohemian edge and a bit more 1980s-style glamour, although the ethnic jewelry ensures that this is not a glitzy or corporate glamour (an important qualification in the decade of Ron and Nancy). Most strikingly, the keyboard on her left references her musicianship, and so incorporates her status as a songwriter and film composer into the image. The result is a photograph that is highly recognizable and yet has a new sheen of professionalism and maturity. 

The film was of course Mike Nichols' Working Girl (1988), a winning comedy with a stellar cast. Nevertheless, its off-beat story needed a measure of Carly clarity in the theme song. How else could we make sense of a film that portrays Wall Street as a callous jungle, and yet wants us to sympathize with the heroine's ambitions to succeed in that world? How else could we understand an ending that firstly celebrates that our heroine has been promoted and secondly reveals that she has achieved only a small, mid-level office amongst thousands of similar offices? The song's combination of a thundering drum beat and gospel choir backing lent a sense of both urban realism and transcendent euphoria to this scenario. Little wonder, then, that its catchy hymn-like melody played over both the opening and closing credits, and that it was hummed and orchestrated at intervals throughout the film. The song was not just catchy. It kept the audience in tune with the trajectory of the plot. Little wonder, too, that the Post Office adopted the song in the wake of 9/11 and the anthrax mailings. It perfectly captures the resilience of the American Dream - let all the dreamers wake the nation! - even in the most challenging circumstances. 

The song was too unusual to storm the charts, and in fact it did not even crack the Top 40 back in 1989. However, it won just about every award possible, including a Golden Globe, a Grammy and an Oscar, and it has become a well known standard and one of her most popular, enduring songs. It solidified her reputation as a musical legend, rather than as a singer or as a celebrity, and this is what is so perfectly captured in Bob Gothard's photograph. It is a portrait of Carly Simon as a musician and songwriter, looking confident in her achievements and, at the end of her second decade in the spotlight, assured of her talents too.

There was a soundtrack album, by the way, but technically it did not count as a Carly Simon album because it contained songs by several different artists.


  1. Thanks for this Walter! I recently heard Witchy Woman by the EAGLES while out and about. I thought, 'what a disaster it would have been to have used THAT song for the theme instead of LTRR.' (Which was being discussed at the last moment, evidently.) Luckily, for the Film and and all of us that the CORRECT decision was finally made... However, the Label really missed 'the boat' when it came to promoting this song. It should have easily been a number one! (It seems like not promoting the right Carly song is a consistent thread Carly's label history...)

  2. I haven't heard "Witchy Woman" in at least a decade, but from what I remember it would be a very weird song to play over the opening credits of Working Girl, when the camera circles the Statue of Liberty. What next - "Take It to the Limit" at the Lincoln Memorial? "Lyin' Eyes" at Mount Rushmore? I think people would have been rightly offended. Luckily, the producers made the right choice.

  3. i wonder if the single or the soundtrack lp went gold? i know that Arista just didnt do much to promote the song which always baffled me when they had a potential mega hit on their hands but to no avail. i heart it one time on the radio when it first came out and always wondered if it was included on a 'Carly Simon lp' if that would have helped the cd at the time (would it have been HYSML even though i know that was suppose to be used for Nichols Postcards from the Edge movie') be a huge mega seller for Carly or by just putting out a semi lp with a carly song and some carly instrumentals was a better idea? i know Playing Possum would have had so much more exposure if 'nobody does it better' was included (even though i know that was a United Artist owned song) which in turned would have let more folks that liked NDIB to maybe like some songs on PP that might have been hits like Slave, or More n More (which i think the latter made the top 100) and made Waterfall a top 40 at least. i guess its fun to ponder the idea :)

    1. Hi Marc.. I think there was some talk of trying to include NDIB on Carly's BITT album. But the Suits had other ideas... from what I have read...BUT, can you imagine? What a blockbuster BITT would have been. It did alright anyway! (I think PP was a bit early to include that song on that album.)

      And Water! WHAT A HOOT!!!!!!!! Your EAGLES images left me LOL! LOL!

    2. My understanding is that the single sold well but there was a lot of resistance to playing it on top 40 radio stations. The Billboard charts are made up of sales and airplay. Hence, the single only made it halfway up the charts. Top 40 radio at the time was dominated by the likes of Milli Vanilli, Roxette, Debbie Gibson and the New Kids on the Block, so "Let the River Run" must have seemed very "mature" by comparison. The sountrack album was an odd fish - much more a compilation than a CS album - and I am not sure how it sold.